WELLINGTON - New Zealand has recorded its first new coronavirus cases for 24 days after two women who travelled from the UK tested positive for COVID-19.

The pair, from the same family, flew to Auckland from London to visit a dying parent, then drove almost 400 miles to Wellington.

They were given an exemption to make the car trip before being tested for coronavirus.

Authorities in New Zealand, which had been hailed for stamping out coronavirus, insist the women had no contact with anyone else on their road trip, but their journey sparked a fresh round of testing of those who may have been close to them.

The women, one in her 30s and the other in her 40s, arrived in New Zealand on 7 June via Doha and Brisbane and were quarantined.

They stayed in a managed isolation hotel in Auckland and applied for an exemption on 12 June to visit their dying parent, who died later that night.

They were allowed to travel to Wellington the following day. It is not known if the women are UK citizens.

One of the women had "mild symptoms" but put it down to a pre-existing condition.

New Zealand lifted all of its domestic travel restrictions last week after the country was declared free from coronavirus, but only citizens and essential workers are allowed into the country.

All arrivals must self-isolate or be quarantined for 14 days.

Airline staff and passengers on the women's fights are being tested for coronavirus, as are people at their quarantined hotel in Auckland, as well as a family member they met in Wellington.

The women remain in isolation and have delayed the funeral of their parent until they have recovered.

Until Tuesday, New Zealand had gone more than three weeks without any new COVID-19 cases, and discharged its last hospital patient at the end of May.

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been 22 deaths in New Zealand and 1,506 cases.

Following the new cases, the country has suspended its compassionate exemption policy.

On Tuesday, director-general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said that, in future, anyone requesting compassionate exemption from quarantine must return a negative test before being allowed to travel.

He said the women had "done everything right" and not put other members of the public at risk.

He said the women had made the eight-hour drive from Auckland to Wellington without refuelling or getting out of their "private vehicle", not even to use the toilet.

Dr Bloomfield said: "They had no contact with anybody else during that trip."

Earlier this week, New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern said she was wary of declaring the country "COVID-free", and warned that new cases could arise as its citizens returned home.

"I don't want New Zealanders to believe that the battle is over when it is not," she said.